Like many of you, I’ve sat on both sides of the leaving table. One experience particularly rankles.
In that company, although all of us in the team simply accepted and celebrated coming and going as a part of our journey, the most senior leader made all departures toxic. All manner of ills were blamed on the departee. It was as if a leaver was the blood-letting that would cure deeper issues. Which of course it never was. I’ve not heard many people speak well of the culture there, even though they would often speak fondly of each other.
I’ve also been in the place where accelerating departures meant that people were increasingly encouraged to go quietly and not raise awareness of their departure. Increasingly, people would ask, “Where’s John?” only to be told he left a couple of weeks back. And the hush around the departures only made what was already a negative environment somewhat more so.
And I’ve been the person that people resigned to. Step forward Sean. You were the first person who ever resigned from a team I was leading. November 2000. I remember it clearly. I remember the room. I remember the conversation. I remember welling up on the inside. But I also remember telling you that you were heading to an opportunity that seemed too good not to take. And I’ve had many similar conversations since.
But I’ve also had those conversations where I didn’t think that was the case. In those instances, I didn’t shy away from telling the leaver if I thought they were making a mistake. I don’t know how fair or unfair that is as a conversation, but at least I know I told them what I believed to be true.
And that brings me back to my opening paragraph.
When I took on that haemorrhaging team, bringing departure out of the closet and having an honest discussion about it changed its nature. It removed the toxicity that was becoming associated with churn.
It also changed the nature of the conversation. I had another goal. That was to tell each member of the team that while I knew that at some point they would leave, I saw it as my responsibility to give them the opportunity to make as much of their time that they were working with me as possible.
That way, the discussion became more honest, and more positive. Honest, because no one was hiding the fact that we both knew that a lot of people were leaving. We even explicitly accepted that it might happen with the person I was talking to. And positive, because there was a declaration of intent with regards to what I thought my responsibility was while my team member was with me – namely to facilitate their growth aspirations.
Critically, I then made sure I did all I could to fulfil that declaration of intent. I implemented what I called “The Star Generation Engine” – a consultant lifecycle model aimed to provide a fertile ground to allow those who wanted to grow the opportunity to do so. (That forms 2 modules of our Values Led Consulting framework).
Ultimately, bringing leaving out into the open, recognising that it was very possible that each and every team member could go when they pleased, and discussing what to expect until that day, all of these ended up contributing to a significant slowdown of leavers.